In my office, I’m the “Honorary Latina.” What does that mean and why does it matter, especially during Hispanic Heritage Month?
I work in a field where my daily activities include finding ways to bridge the vast and ever-present gap between U.S. companies selling their products or services and the large Latino population that they are missing out on. Sometimes it’s a language barrier, which I can help fill by being bilingual. Sometimes it’s a cultural divide, which I can help fill with my experience living in Spain (the original Spanish-speaking country) and exposure to Spanish speakers from many other countries. But sometimes, the gap is deeper and more complex than either of those two things individually.
Say you’re a non-Hispanic, American businessperson trying to sell your widgets. They are the best widgets ever, a complete upgrade over anyone else’s widgets, AND they are priced to sell! You don’t have a huge team, so you create your own graphic and write the sales wording yourself, based on what YOU, YOUR friends, YOUR family would want to buy if YOU, YOUR friends, YOUR family needed that widget. You may use some clever turns of phrase or puns, something that EVERYONE would understand, chuckle over, and then click on your link or come into your store to buy. BUT – you’re naturally and automatically assuming that everyone is like YOU. That the image you chose, that so appealed to YOU, will also appeal to those NOT like YOU. That the message you wrote that rolls off the tongue and makes YOU smile, will make EVERYONE else smile, too. And it will, for people like YOU.
But how do you sell your amazing widget to people other than the YOUs of the world? By embracing and appreciating the language and culture of the second largest target market in the U.S. à Latinos. 1) Advertise in Spanish-language publications, print or online. You don’t need a fully translated ad to make a connection – 6 out of 10 Spanish-speakers understand at least some English. “Hola” and “¡Gracias!” can go a long way. And a few such well-placed words will go farther than a poor online translation that can unintentionally turn “Show your wild side!” into “Be savage!” 2) Family is a top priority in the Latino community. Choose images that include Latinos, especially larger groups. Most decisions happen within the home, so try to appeal to various members of the typical extended Latino family – children, young adults, parents, grandparents, even aunts and uncles. 3) Be sincere, be consistent, and be patient. Like any other sector, it is a process to grow the Latino demographic. Advertising just at Christmas may generate some business, but reaching out throughout the year will make you recognizable over the long-term.
And that brings me back to Hispanic Heritage Month and being the “Honorary Latina” in the office. Since my first exposure to Spanish in the 8th grade, I’ve grown to appreciate the language, culture, and literature over the years. My experiences abroad, my love of the culture and diversity of the many Spanish-speaking countries, and my understanding of the subtleties and nuance of the beautiful Spanish language, all as a non-Hispanic, combine to provide me with the ability to appreciate both cultures even more. I’m a bridge between two wonderful worlds right in my own backyard. And that shows with my Dominican and Peruvian officemates. We tell jokes, strategize, plan, and implement our ideas in English, Spanish, and often in Spanglish, too. And we’re all better for having that diversity in our office.
Sara Dickmyer, Linguistics Director for Cool & Associates LLC. She holds a Master’s Degree in Spanish Language, Literature and Culture from Middlebury College – School of Language, which included a year of study in Madrid, Spain; a Bachelor’s Degree with dual majors in International Business and Spanish, and dual minors in Political Science and World Religions from Virginia Tech. She leads our Linguistics projects which includes translations, voice over and marketing content.